186: The Best of All Possible Worlds

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The Best of All Possible Worlds

For all their doom and gloom, videogames are pretty much always about the unqualified triumph of good over evil, a happy occasion that's pretty rare in everyday life. So why do critics insist that games need to be polluted with more ambiguity?

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Brilliant. Love the 'shaggy dog' stories as well.

Evil can be a way to go, but you really need to be Evil, not just a petty thug who kicks puppies. Not unless those puppies squeal as they hurtle in front of the speeding truck.

I enjoyed this article. Gaming worlds are so much easier to do the right thing in, black and white are so much more clearly marked out.

Though I would have liked to see Tommy Vercetti die in a Scarface-esque fashion really.

It's not 'critics' who want more ambiguity in games - it's gamers. Anyway, why can't there be room for both simplistic 'good guy vs bad world' tales and more complex ones where the player's character has more of a choice about the morality of his character?

Besides, it's not the ambiguity that's the point - it's having a choice.

Good article. But failed to note that almost every game on the market is a mindless shooter, so arguing we need more of the same is really unnecessary.

Does anyone else want to play "Cuttlefish Wars: The Inkening" as badly as I do?

In games, you are often only presented with the unambiguous moral path out of necessity. It wouldn't make any sense if, say, in Super Mario Bros., you stopped to ponder whether the princess wants to be with Bowser instead, because then you'd just stop playing. There is no other option. Rescue the princess or die. However, now that we have greater technology, people want more choices. There are plenty of games that are excellent without allowing choices, and there are games that show the dilemma of moral ambiguity through cut scenes without actually giving the player any control over the final outcome. To attempt to give the player a significant say in how the game plays out would be a cyclopean task, but it would also be more impressive and provide a richer experience, if done well. Think of it as a modern Choose Your Own Adventure book.

PedroSteckecilo:
Does anyone else want to play "Cuttlefish Wars: The Inkening" as badly as I do?

Me. That game sounds absolutely epic.

The article itself managed to not only be amusing, but also make an interesting point. I agree with much of what it said. I really hate the common RPG choice trichotomy of A: I'm really nice so I'll do it. B: Grr I am evil, no I will not do it. and C: I'll do it, but I'm greedy. Give me money.

You totally missed the choice to be made in Bioshock. There will be some *spoilers* so stop now if you haven't played the game. You arrive a stranger, being told what to do by an unknown voice. The path before you is set, everyone who plays the game follows the same basic path. Killing little girls for a minor performance benefit isn't really the choice to make, it just points you toward the choice. You don't choose the path but you can choose why you follow it. Are you there to accumulate money and power because that is the obvious path, or is there a greater purpose, saving the orphan girls and giving them a chance at life. This is reflected in the two endings. The ultimate test comes near the end where you have to protect the Little Sisters as you approach the final boss fight. You have an unlimited supply of girls so if you don't protect one you can always get more, but you can use your ammo and health to protect this stranger or you can save it for the big fight. The real challenge is being a protector, the final fight was easy by design. It was a secondary objective, one last minor errand before you take the girls to their new life. After the obvious metaphor for growing up and going through puberty, this acceptance of parental responsibility is the final step in growing up. It is just sad that most people missed this part of the the game, leaving them with the empty feeling that comes with the aimless wandering of perpetual adolescence.

Really interesting read, and I mostly agree, although I'm not sure quite how far. Much as the central point is true, perhaps I'm just particularly poor at suspending disbelief but I don't get such a altruistic rush when I'm forced to be the saintly good guy. I think a small degree of moral ambiguity, if done properly, as it rarely is, could very much add to a game. I'm not talking about KOTOR 2's infamous beggar sequence, either.

Because, ambiguity or not, games let us do what we couldn't in real life. If we take as an example the your tale of misplaced kindness and place it in a game, it wouldn't end there. You would have the seemingly clear-cut choice to start of to help or not to help. If you help and return to find an item stolen, in a game that wouldn't have to be the end of the story. You could find him again, and then what would you do? Would you exact your revenge on him for betraying your trust? How far would that revenge go? Or would you take the moral high ground anyway? By adding that end bit on the edge is taken off the ambiguity, of course, but it would place the spectrum of actions much more into the grey, and I believe would make the plot somewhat more compelling. Would you get such a rush from taking the high path when the low path is justified?

I'm aware that that's hardly the depth of ambiguity some people seem to desire, but games are entertainment after all and we play them to be entertained, not depressed. But I think if a game can bring in that slight element of ambiguity, and drag you through the shadows before the way to the light is clear, it would only add to it.

" No one wants to experience the inner emotional life of a videogame character; no one wants to see Tommy Vercetti die like Al Pacino in Scarface; and certainly no one wants to play a videogame about someone's descent into heroin addiction."
You're joking, right? This is a joke. That's EXACTLY the kind of game I would want to play; how about pointing me to the developer that can pull it off with some nuance and depth? This article seems to imply that all gamers play games for the basic escapist entertainment of being the white knight saving the princess from the Totally Evil Wizard Guy, which just isn't true. Technology has sufficiently advanced now to the point that it is possible for videogames to tell an interactive story, and to tailor an emotional experience for the player. I'd kill to play as a heroin addict, but I don't think any dev on earth could make that and resist the urge to turn it into a minigame with flashing lights.

I dig the Candide reference, and your article makes me wonder why (both as humanity and gamers) we focus so much on destruction. As for me, I'm going to go play Viva Piņata and work in my garden.

This is the exact same thing as people who read cheesy romance novels (or any other easy-to-read -but-entertaining book) instead of reading a piece of literature. Sometimes, yeah, you just want to be entertained, but sometimes you want something with a bit more meaning. You say you always just want to be entertained... that's your opinion. There are other people who could stand to be moved by a game sometimes.

To piggyback on Boober the Pig, in Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (SPOILERS!!) you are given a similar choice to join the Emperor, let your friends die, and kill Darth Vader. If you don't run to destroy the Emperor immediately, I think you will be stuck playing bad Star Wars games and attending Star Wars conventions for quite sometime. But I think growing up means turning back into a child before you even had a crush on Star Wars, Bioshock, or video games. The ability to put a game or video games behind you is similar to a child's ability to remain interested in many new things instead of becoming some specialist. I think Bioshock's use of children is a metaphor for respecting and revisiting your childhood. If you kill the children and don't protect them, you are way too into video games and need to "grow up".

And I don't think life is ambiguous at all. Life is real and based on facts. For example if you don't eat then you will die of starvation. If anything, video games are ambiguous because how can you ever agree with the choices you make unless it affects your own survival? Dying in a video game is almost religious because you can come back from death without penalty. The only games where dying is treated even somewhat correctly is Final Fantasy Tactics and Fire Emblem. If your favorite knight dies, he is never coming back again. Sure you can reset the game, but that also shows just how ambiguous your own life is when you can't accept loss as a fact of life on Earth.

Why do I feel like a Big Daddy laden with kittens is far scarier than a big Daddy with a Rivet Gun?

Regardless, lovely article.

wow, fuck you. I don't want to play Good Triumphs Over Evil 5286: The Inkening, 'cause after about the fifth one of those games, they get really really boring. I want games to get to where they can be respected as much as any other art form. I don't want games to be just toys anymore. I've had enough of good vs evil, right vs wrong, and bringing light to the darkness. I want to play something I can respect.

Congrats on your act of subway heroism. I feel that.

Interesting viewpoints, but I agree, and yet I don't agree. It depends on the specific game, there's no one set standard that all should follow. Mario? Yeah, he should save the princess every time (although Mario is getting kinda stale to me after 25 years). In that case, good should (and will) triumph over evil.

But to say that no gamer wants to experience a characters inner emotional life??? I can prove you wrong right now by saying that I do. I'll never forget the first time I felt real emotion coming from a game, the ending of Final Fantasy X. The tearful goodbye between Tidus and Yuna is heart wrenching, and looking back afterwards I realized that throughout the game we were experiencing the inner emotions of several characters the whole way. And that made it all the more amazing of an experience.

Perhaps I'm jaded and mean, but in the situation outside your apartment, I don't know that I'd do what you did. How often do people covered in blood stagger up to you saying that "bad men" are after him and will kill him. There are more lies and scams these days than murders and I, for one, would question his motives. But again, maybe I'm jaded. But, linking back to the point, those are the kinds of decisions that I think would be cool in games, not all games, but certain games.

Like another said before me, not everyone plays for the sheer escapism. My life, while not perfect, is not so bad that I need to sit down and play a videogame just to get the unpolluted "happiness" into my day. Sure, sometimes I play for the triumph of good over evil. But whether that's the case or not, I'm almost always playing for the emotion and the story of the game; to put myself in this character's shoes and see how his/her story unfolds.

The article is a brilliant satire of an indefensible position. No one gamer gets to decree "that's what games are for," thank God.

I'm not even gonna read the heartgaugingly bland mess of replies that must be here.
They usually show up when you slightly miss a point entirely, sometimes to point it out.
Ok, I did look now and I see those replies are there! Hehehe...
Still, it's true that games whould not be ambiguous or however it's spelled, nothing should.
Didn't ambiguity use to mean evil? Fashion moves with the majority~

I hate it when a game tries to flip an ending, what are u supposed to do, go "wow my imagination is somehow insufficient to come up with that, thank you for changing my life and wasting my effort"?
The pain was surely a trial worth money, and worthy beyond my following rage.

What they're trying to say is, they don't want stupid games, make the world magically a little less stupid why don't you.
Of course they get the opposite or we wouldn't be reading ur article.

I'm kinda bored because you can't agree* with me so I'm gonna go do something else.

*argue

EDIT: I'm tired

Wait, I may have misunderstood, but I got from this article, "Games shouldn't be realistic, because realistic games aren't fun."

Which just makes me say, "Games can be whatever the developer wants them to be, even if it's realistic, because some people think that realistic games are fun."

Seriously, I would like to play a gritty game set in the Civil War or something. Very, very few games ever actually try to take on important, real-world issues like movies or books do, and I think it's time. Why does no one try to make a game that sends an important, real-life message to the player? If books can change people's lives, games should be able to, also. Games should be able to motivate players to take action in their own lives, not just their virtual ones. If people did more of this, I think that most of society would see gamers with more respect.

vdgmprgrmr:
Seriously, I would like to play a gritty game set in the Civil War or something. Very, very few games ever actually try to take on important, real-world issues like movies or books do, and I think it's time. Why does no one try to make a game that sends an important, real-life message to the player? If books can change people's lives, games should be able to, also. Games should be able to motivate players to take action in their own lives, not just their virtual ones. If people did more of this, I think that most of society would see gamers with more respect.

You get criticized for your game if you try to apply too much realism to it. I recall people complain about that new Brothers in arms game for showing Nazis dragging a woman into a barn and later show that woman lynched in the middle of that barn (and that was from a Videogame magazine). Games are still kid's toys, even if they're all violent and gruesome, in that case, they're big kid's toys. 100% entertainment, 0% pretension.

But I have to disagree with the article. Who says I don't want to see the protagonist suffer from regular life's problems and see him handle them? I don't want any more black/white worlds, and I think many people agree with me.

New York City? and you let some bloody guy into your lobby and just left him there? Silly Noob.

I disagree as well. My favorite games are Sandbox style games that allow you multiple approaches and styles to win and allow you to decide what is right and wrong. Escapism from moral decision making can be cool and all, but I prefer freedom to do as I please in a game.

vdgmprgrmr:
Seriously, I would like to play a gritty game set in the Civil War or something.

As a matter of fact, there are a couple Civil War first-person shooter games produced by the History Channel... I've been wanting to play them, too. They seem pretty cool.

As for the article...

No one wants to experience the inner emotional life of a videogame character; no one wants to see Tommy Vercetti die like Al Pacino in Scarface; and certainly no one wants to play a videogame about someone's descent into heroin addiction.

By this logic, no one would want to play as, say, a murderer, a homicidal warlord, a person struggling through their deep inner turmoil, a death row inmate, or a trained hitman whose targets are not always unambiguously evil.

Hm, yet this trend (fortunately) continues throughout video games. Games have reached the point where it isn't always about saving the day, and it is perfectly okay to just tell a story instead. I for one would not like to go back to the NES days of 'There is a bad guy and possibly some kind of hostage so go right and kill monsters until the day is saved!'.
Now, this is not to say playing the good guy is never fun: there are times when all you want is to experience unambiguous moral righteousness and triumph over an obviously evil foe. But equally important are the other times when a gamer wants to see a really sweet story unfold in front of them. Personally, I hope that games of the near future explore both areas of storytelling more fully.

Yeah, I just really couldn't disagree more with this article. I enjoy my Mario and My Zelda good vs. evil as much as the next guy, but to essentially say that all video gaming comes down to the need for escapism (and any opinion to the contrary is coming from the snoots and not the gamers) is sort of ignorant.

paste:
in Super Mario Bros., you stopped to ponder whether the princess wants to be with Bowser instead, because then you'd just stop playing.

I disagree. In Braid you find yourself in the same situation - you're trying to rescue the princess. But, without spoiling the story, the game asks you whether you really should be with the princess or not.

"No one wants to experience the inner emotional life of a videogame character; no one wants to see Tommy Vercetti die like Al Pacino in Scarface; and certainly no one wants to play a videogame about someone's descent into heroin addiction."

If a game could make me feel the inner turmoil of a heroin addict as well as the movie Half Nelson did, then I think it would be a game worth playing. Thank you Podunk for backing up my point before I made it. Saved me a bit of time. (also, thanks for reminding me to play Indigo Prophesy again, I've been meaning to get around to it)

teknoarcanist:
" No one wants to experience the inner emotional life of a videogame character; no one wants to see Tommy Vercetti die like Al Pacino in Scarface; and certainly no one wants to play a videogame about someone's descent into heroin addiction."
You're joking, right? This is a joke. That's EXACTLY the kind of game I would want to play; how about pointing me to the developer that can pull it off with some nuance and depth? This article seems to imply that all gamers play games for the basic escapist entertainment of being the white knight saving the princess from the Totally Evil Wizard Guy, which just isn't true. Technology has sufficiently advanced now to the point that it is possible for videogames to tell an interactive story, and to tailor an emotional experience for the player. I'd kill to play as a heroin addict, but I don't think any dev on earth could make that and resist the urge to turn it into a minigame with flashing lights.

this basically sums up what I thought.
although it was a very well written article it was fundamentally flawed in that it was subtly taking the stance that games are just something to be enjoyed and aren't a legitimate art form, which is only a step away from the games are just for kids arguments.

EDIT: Just to add an afterthought.
An example of how games can be moved forward in the correct path was something I found whilst playing Fahrenheit. Sure I can see how the game could be heavily criticized for its somewhat lack of real gameplay but the story was so compelling I couldn't put it down.
Although I'm not entirely sure whether the rumours that you can achieve multiple hugely different endings are true, I would not be surprised and in that is a where the ability to forge your own story comes in and is done well.
Although many people disregard everything he says I found myself thoroughly agreeing with Yahtzee when he raised the point that if everything is left too open-ended (see farcry 2) and the story is left entirely up to you it usually won't work out.
But to have a number of paths which you will flow into fluidly whilst being often unaware of the path you have directed yourself into is a very good development.

This is where the all important ambiguity comes in.
In Fahrenheit you were often strapped for time. Unlike typical RPGs the world refused to wait around for you to check up on everything you want to before you decide to move the story on and it would force you to abandon potentially crucial information in order to survive.
Because how much you know would always be limited you had to make decisions without fully knowing the consequences of your actions.
This is what leads to the not knowing of which path you have directed yourself on.
In most games, regardless of their attempts to disguise it you can pretty much always tell the effect upon the story your decisions will make.
Although I may be wrong, and there is only one clear path and one ending it always felt to me as though there were other plausible ways the story could have panned out, or at least changes to the overall ending which could have been made by decisions you made, but it always felt like the way the story was going was influenced by my decisions, although I hadn't always been aware of the consequences.

This is the sort of the thing that will bring gaming closer to real life, and in the right way.

Don't get me wrong, I love a well done good vs clearly evil FPS/Survival Horror/RPG/RTS/etc but I would like to see games like what I have described being made also brought into existence.

Gaming is not just a form of light entertainment intended for kids, it is as valid an art form as theatre, television and film, just one filled with far more potential due to it's ability to be far more immersive than any of the other three.

Damn good article and an excellent argument. I half agree with you, but I also enjoy games with a lot of depth as well. I have one specific point of disagreement.

SPOILERS (for The Force Unleashed)

When you said that no one wants to see Tommy Vercetti mowed down like Pacino in Scarface, I have to beg to differ. I think it's perfectly acceptable within the context of certain stories and games to have the main character die. I (unlike everyone else it seems) loved The Force Unleashed, especially the ending. I felt truly sad for our character, but much better when I completed the "bad" ending and saw the alternative. Sure, it sucks to lose the character you've grown to love in a game, but sometimes it makes the story that much more powerful. I would have accepted such an ending to the Max Payne series as well. It just seems appropriate sometimes.

You know, sometimes, you're perfectly right. Sometimes I want to sit down and enjoy a few hours of Team Fortress 2 in all its violent and cartoony splendour. And, if I interpreted your aims correctly, you did a good job of lampooning the "SERIOUS BUSINESS" thought trend that seems to forget that games should, generally speaking, be fun.

But sometimes, I want something a bit more mentally stimulating - and there certainly is a significant number of gamers who also feel that way. Games are supposed to be challenging, so why not pose a moral challenge along with the more conventional tests of skill?

I applaud the author for the subway thing. It made me laugh because I notice it happening to other people too often, and just laughing when they're manipulated and sent on their way.

Also, the point of the article is seen by me, and agreed to - to a point.

I just think that some games that have ambiguity can increase the experience, and characters with mixed feelings about certain things can also be more interesting to analyze and think about.

Take Spike Siegel for example...

Gladion:
You get criticized for your game if you try to apply too much realism to it. [...] 100% entertainment, 0% pretension.

[...]Who says I don't want to see the protagonist suffer from regular life's problems and see him handle them? I don't want any more black/white worlds, and I think many people agree with me.

You are contradicting yourself right there. Real world problems, as far as video games go, are considered "too much realism". Think about it, it's "not facing problems by not mentioning them" the Ostrich Effect. That's why you don't see thing like that in video games: run down heroin addicts, working-class family harassed to death by IRS, beaten up guy asking for help then robbing your home, the main protagonist dying a horrible and meaningless death in the end...etc. You won't see really "realistic" games, it won't happen.

Here is a good example of that by my favorite author, David Wong: The Ultimate War Simulation Game
I know it's on a humor site, but it was hosted on his own site way back when PWOT was still running. I think it's the best satire of what we are talking about here.

Man I would love to have seen the expression on her face...

Good vs Evil will do to a certain point, but i think most people have that nagging little need for more depth. In the realms of ambiguity video games have a lot of potential and can only improve.

While games that offer pure escapist entertainment will always exist, and I will continue playing them, my favorite games not only offer great game play, but also really draw me into the story and create a connection between me and the other characters on an emotional level to a point where I really care about the characters. For example, Half Life 2 and the sequels did this for me. I don't know if it connected with everybody, but I know the developers wanted you to care about Alyx and company and it worked for me. I didn't mind when I was sent again to take care of business, or fix this or open that to help the characters advance. On the other hand, when I played Dead Space, I found myself getting really annoyed every time something was wrong and I was the only one to fix it. While I found it very entertaining to cut the limbs off as a new way of taking on the enemy, I just didn't care about any of the characters or the outcome and so I didn't finish the game.
Games have a potential for story telling and character development that has never been seen before. With a book, you read about others. In a movie you watch others. But in a game you become one of the characters and your actions could affect and influence other characters and the plot itself. I wish more developers would look at games from that point of view.

Did you forget about the Tenpenny Tower quest in Fallout 3? SPOILER: It's just like your man in the rain example. You do the seemingly Good thing by helping the Ghouls live in "harmony" with the residents, but ultimately the ghouls murder everyone else in the tower.

This is one of the worst Escapist features I've seen. 99% of games that have a plot are written with pre-kindergarten morality as is. If that's all you want, fine, but at least don't go and write an essay on how no one else should be allowed a choice either.

Splitter's reply says everything constructive I wanted to say on this.

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